12th July 2017

I have been reflecting some more on my list of things to give up or stop doing, the idea of letting things go is quite appealing. Yesterday I gave up checking my personal e-mails, just for the day. I didn’t surf the internet except for work (and even there, only a little). At lunchtime I went to the library and failed to find the book I wanted to read (Wittgenstein’s Tractatus) or a movie I wanted to borrow (L’avventura, or Solaris). I did not borrow a book, I simply wandered around looking for and not finding things. Maybe not finding things is something I can add to my list. On the train I read my book, but I didn’t plug my ears with music. It rained a lot. I lay on my back on the sofa and looked at the ceiling. I looked at the square of light I could see through my window: it was grey, featureless. That was how my life felt.

I realised there are some other things I can give up, my list is growing. Last night I added to it:

  • Not knowing
  • Missing out
  • Being unprepared

The first and the last are the ones I am least adept at, especially as the internet – such a noble idea – is a random desire generating machine which allows us to seek out things we would not otherwise be able to seek, and to know things we would not otherwise be able to know, or at least not so easily. Once, as one of my colleagues adeptly pointed out, to find the paragraph or two of knowledge we were seeking we would have to read an entire book and we would find our knowledge but we would also find a bunch of other things we weren’t expecting and the richness of knowledge which came from that is becoming a thing of the past. Now we can simply ask Google or Bing and Google or Bing will tell us exactly what we want to know, but the context, the peripheral knowledge which might lead us to know something more deeply, with greater nuance, is omitted.

The internet is most successful at enabling us to buy things we do not need.

Being unprepared, I think, is my Achilles’ heel. Or, rather, being prepared. I am always preparing, planning, scheming and making lists. Like this list. I am already making a list of things to do when I’m on holiday in 2 weeks; and then again 3 weeks after that. I am thinking about what to do for my daughter’s birthday and for Christmas, and I am thinking about the fact that my boss is retiring soon and what will happen when he does. In the back of my mind my own retirement looms, though it is at least 20 years away. I am planning meals days in advance. I am planning my work, my reading, what I’ll write about. I am thinking about how I will think about what I am doing for the rest of the day. I cannot stop planning. Planning is why I have a freezer full of food I’ll probably never eat, and food in tins and cupboards full of flour. Planning is why I have 1,000+ books on the shelf, about a quarter of which I have not read and might not ever, Planning is why I have a drawer full of socks, and Tupperware pots and pans which haven’t seen the light of day in years. Just in case. Planning is why spontaneity takes me totally by surprise, why I have never spent an afternoon boozing in the garden, or taken a day off work to sleep, or indulged in any other slovenly or self-indulgent behaviour. I am beginning to wonder if I’ve missed something fundamental by this. I am resisting my desire to make a plan to be spontaneous.

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